Editorial: Fear and loathing in the nerd world order


Have you ever heard of comic artist Tony Harris? If you’re a fan of Starman or Ex Machina, you may have seen his work; it is detailed, inventive and beautiful.

But though a picture might say a thousand words, the wrong words can deal a lot of damage. And with a recent screed on Facebook against female cosplayers, Harris has thoroughly pissed on his own reputation.

Cosplay means “costume play” and describes the performing art of people dressing up as specific characters that appear in comics, manga, anime or video games. The largely male-dominated world of comic art means that female characters in those genres tend to show a lot of skin, so if a woman decides to impersonate Lara Croft or Wonder Woman, it’s unlikely that she’ll choose a turtleneck and jeans.

What Harris seems to have a problem with are scantily clad women at comic conventions (cons) who, to his mind, don’t know enough about comics to justify being there. He describes these women as “quasi-pretty-NOT-hot” attention-seekers who feed off of the collective drooling of nerds. He believes that if those male onlookers attempted to speak to them outside of a con, the cosplayers “wouldn’t give them the fucking time of day.” He’s even convinced that these women are the “rule,” with precious few exceptions.

Harris tries to come to the rescue of “a LOT of average Comic Book Fans,” who he believes are being somehow preyed on by these cosplayers.

But guys who attend cons aren’t alone in feeling alienated or socially uncomfortable, and neither are they the only ones who cultivate deep interests in nerd topics. Many women also grew up with nerd culture, and it’s an important refuge for them as well. Plenty of those nerdy ladies could crush the typical citizen in a game of Nerd Trivial Pursuit.

It’s really not about how much a given person knows about a topic. The fact that nerd culture is becoming more popular is a good thing, and you shouldn’t need to pass a test to get your con ticket. To say otherwise just perpetuates elitism and hurts the growth of the community.

As cosplayers like Molly McIssac explain on their blogs, dressing up in your favourite character’s costume can actually be incredibly empowering for female (and male) nerds who spend most of their lives feeling socially uncomfortable. But those positive feelings are often overwhelmed by discomfort when confronted by the disgusting, leering behaviour of some con attendees. In just the last few months, fashion designer Mandy Caruso spoke out on the web after being publicly harassed at the New York Comic Con, and she’s far from the first.

Like all bullying, the core of behaviour like Harris’s is insecurity. Doctor Who fandom has become a staple of online dating profiles, and video games are no longer solely the domain of Cheetos-eating basement dwellers. This means socially awkward hetero guys are now in the same uncomfortable situations they may have been retreating from.

It’s time for Harris and all the “unconfident” virgins he claims to protect to step up to the bar that the cosplayers have raised. By 43 years old, you should be able to lay claim to your own emotions and handle a little bare skin.